PARADISE ISLAND, THE BAHAMAS - From top to bottom and from east to west, the Caribbean has strongly rebounded from last year’s twin hurricanes, tourism officials told assembled media yesterday.

Representatives of 10 Caribbean nations – Dominica, Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, The British Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, St. Martin/St. Maarten and Puerto Rico, delivered in-person or video (Puerto Rico) updates to journalists assembled at Atlantis, Paradise Island for the Caribbean State of the Tourism Industry Conference (SOTIC).

Here’s a rundown on a few new things and some facts and figures for each of those destinations.



This island was hit extremely hard by the storms last year, but things are rebounding nicely, said Colin Piper, CEO of Discover Dominica. Almost 60 per cent of hotel rooms had been re-opened as of July 31, and there’s full connectivity to their main airport hubs in the Caribbean. Seven of 15 watersports operations are up and running, and the cruise business is picking up. Piper said new projects include the luxurious Cabrits Resort Kempinski, a 168-room hotel on the west coast that’s slated to open in the third quarter of next year. Secret Bay, one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful and luxurious properties, will re-open on Nov. 1 with new villas. I had a chance to visit for part of a day a year ago and was stunned by the features and design. There’s also the Anichi Resort on the way, a Marriott Autograph Collection property that should open late next year. Dominica hasn’t been known as a luxury destination but new projects are pushing it in that direction, Piper said.



Canadian visits to Barbados are up 2.7 per cent so far this year, and up a solid 18.2 per cent in the last five years, said Billy Griffith, CEO of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. “WestJet saw an eight per cent increase in business to Barbados between May and October,” Griffiths told journalists. “And Air Canada this winter will increase capacity by 75 per cent from Montreal with larger aircraft and three weekly flights.” Sandals Royal Barbados opened in December of last year, while the new Sea Breeze Beach Hotel (a fabulous property I toured last week) opened in April of this year. The Fairmont Royal Pavilion, a lush property on the sunny west coast, re-opened last November after a major renovation, Griffith said. Virgin Holidays’ is supposed to open their Departure Beach project in December of this year, while Sam Lord’s Castle Barbados, a Wyndham Grand Resort, is slated to open in 2020.



Antigua and Barbuda (which was badly hit by last year’s storms) had a record-breaking year in 2017, with more than a million visitors. Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez said he was in Barbuda six weeks ago and that the beaches “are as pristine as ever.” The Barbuda Belle, an eco-friendly, luxury resort with six bungalows, will re-open Nov. 1, he said, making it the first island to re-open since last fall’s hurricane. He also noted that Sunwing’s Royalton property will open in February of next year on Antigua. There will be two distinct sections; Resort and Diamond, with luxury rooms and suites, a 24-hour concierge service, rain shower baths and much more. It’s a family friendly, all-inclusive project from Sunwing. Fernandez said the St. James Club has been given a $7 million upgrade.



An island known mostly for all-inclusives and luxury properties such as Jade Mountain and Ladera is putting an emphasis on folks who want to experience the real Saint Lucia by visiting local villages. The idea is to try local food and rum shops and to mingle with everyday residents, said Dominic Fedee, minister of tourism. Packages will be available for travel agents to sell, he said. Of course, many folks want to spend most of their time at a resort. And they can certainly do that in Saint Lucia, with new projects on the way from Fairmont (near the international airport on the south coast) and Ritz Carlton (also near the international airport). Other resorts on the way include offerings from Sandals (their fourth), Zoetry and Dreams. There’s also a new Marriott coming for the area near the cruise port, Fedee said.



The host country for this year’s SOTIC event wasn’t hit by last year’s hurricanes and is going strong. The much-ballyhooed Baha Mar project is up and running, said Joy Jibrilu, director general of tourism . The project contains the Caribbean’s largest casino and Nassau’s first rooftop bar, she said. There are 2200 rooms and private residences, including an 1,800-room Grand Hyatt, a 299-room SLS and a 237-room Rosewood Baha Mar Hotel. The One and Only Ocean Club has been rebranded as The Ocean Club, A Four Seasons Resort, Bahamas, while boutique properties are being added on outer islands, including Eleuthera and Exuma. Jibrilu said The Bahamas will soon launch a new brand campaign, their first since 2013, and that a new app will be available in November. She said the Bahamas recently was named the top destination in the world for Instagram photos that contain the hashtag “no filter,” a nod to the beautiful waters and striking colours that nature has provided. Stopovers in The Bahamas are up 15 per cent, Jibrilu said. So far this year, Canadian visits are up a whopping 28 per cent, making Canada their number two international market after the U.S., only a short flight away. Canadian seats on winter flights will be up 23%this year over last, she said.



Princess Juliana International Airport, badly damaged by last year’s storms, has re-opened, said Alex Pierre, VP of the French St. Martin tourism office. Restaurants and hotels also are re-opening, he said. Nobody wants to see the kind of damage the two-nation island suffered last year, but Pierre said the storms have given the island a chance to re-invent itself and make needed improvements. Nearly 2,000 rooms are available now, he said, and another 1,000 will be ready by the end of this year. New projects include a Sonesta Ocean Point Resort, slated to open in December, and a Planet Hollywood on the Dutch side that should open its doors sometime in 2019. Pierre said Air Canada, WestJet and Transat all are returning or have already returned to the island.



“We’re very excited and optimistic about the future,” Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, told reporters via a weblink from San Juan. Air lift was down to 20 planes a day after last year’s hurricane but they’re now up to 110 a day, Dean said. There were 14 cruise ships in San Juan today alone. Dean said there are about 10,800 rooms available today in Puerto Rico and that they’ll be at 15,000 or so by the middle of next year; right about where they were when Hurricane Maria hit. There’s also a large growth in AirBnB properties for rent. Dean said a new entertainment project, called The District, will open late next year near the San Juan Convention Center. “It’s going to be a massive, amazing entertainment complex; a slice of Times Square with a Latin feel and Caribbean flavour,” he said. Dean declined to get into a political shouting match with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has strongly disagreed with estimates of damage done by Hurricane Maria last year and who heralded the clean-up as a huge success. “The president speaks for himself pretty well,” Dean said with a smile. “I think it’s best if there’s less politics and more talk about our progress.” On the plus side, Dean said having Puerto Rico in the news so much lately has reminded Americans that it’s part of the United States, which means they don’t need passports or different currency.


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